More than 300 fishermen who were rescued by the Indonesian government from forced labour and slavery in the remote island of Benjina have arrived safely in the port of the neighbouring Tual island.
The group of fishermen, who mainly came from Myanmar, as well as from Cambodia, and Thailand, were freed following an investigation into claims of human trafficking by the Associated Press news agency.
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The exploited workers, who were trapped in forced labour for up to 10 years, say they were forced to work without pay, severely abused and locked up in cells.
“Maybe some on these boats wanted to be there but not me and not many others,” fisherman Kyaw Yelin told Al Jazeera. “They told me to just accept my situation but I couldnt. I want so badly to go home.”
Asep Burhanudin, the director general of Indonesia’s Ministry of Fishery and Maritime Affairs, said the fishermen were “given electroshocks and tortured” if they complained of being ill and were treated “inhumanely” if they became sleepy during work.
Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen, reporting from Tual’s eastern port at the fishermen’s arrival, said they had first been promised jobs at restaurants before being forced to fish under horrific conditions in a remote eastern corner of Indonesia.
The International Organisation for Migration has reported that as many as 4,000 people in the areas surrounding Benjina have been exloited in the fishing industry.
Workers described being beaten, forced to work 20- to 22-hour shifts, being given unclean drinking water, and gave testimonies of many dying at sea.